Michael Bailey: City are winning one big quarrel - with another to be resolved on Sunday
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In his latest weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and PinkUn Show host Michael Bailey assesses exactly where the Canaries find themselves ahead of their East Anglian derby visit from Ipswich Town.
Following a football club is like watching expectation and reality embark on a nine-month quarrel.
Thankfully it doesn’t always last that long. If they synchronise quickly you can be treated to either the most memorable of seasons – or the most forgettable.
But when they really fall out of line, when the underachievement unravels for months on end save the occasional ray of light, it can become a tough place to commit your unwavering support towards.
This isn’t the first time I’ve said or written it, but the point still stands – Norwich City’s biggest issue this season has been sat there from the very first summer friendly and was always primed to cause tremendous friction.
There was the expectation. The final season of parachute payments and so, the final shot at a Premier League return before the gravy train stopped calling and the unpalatable realities of the Canaries’ comparative financial model were laid bare: Ipswich Town mark II – only without the £6m pumped in each year by Marcus Evans to keep things afloat.
And don’t forget the numerous experienced internationals who had the potential to do what they did the previous season at City – and simply improve away from home and defensively. Job done.
Well, job done – except for the reality. The aging, costly squad that didn’t have enough last term and was in danger of holding the club’s long-term survival to ransom.
And except for the City board’s decision to end its status quo; one that may have already peaked with three consecutive years in the Premier League. A muddling through that also, in reality, left the club’s infrastructure no better off than when the club was sent down to League One.
German coaches, new culture, new philosophy. The sheer amount of change was never going to marry with the overwhelming – but still justified –expectation around Carrow Road.
It’s why ‘Farkelife’ caught hold. Why almost 9,000 City fans went to the Emirates Stadium wearing Daniel Farke masks. And why the more barren runs and a pair of goalless draws against Burton brought such sharp reactions.
This may all feel like raking over old ground. To a degree, it is. But it is relevant, this weekend more than any – because the quarrel is still going on.
While expectations have a dose of realism about them seven months into the season, City’s improved form has everyone wondering if – the biggest word in the dictionary – there is still time for a late dig at the top six.
Compare that to City’s nearest and dearest, who visit Carrow Road on Sunday above Norwich in the Championship table thanks to goal-difference. Their goalless draw at Burton seemed to perfectly sync their supporters’ expectations with the reality of their plight in recent seasons – and with it, they may well put their season to bed come Sunday.
City could yet pull off the incredible. The chance is small but the chance still exists, and that is an achievement in itself.
Either way, one of the positives to come out of this season’s quarrel is the ammunition it leaves for next season; one where I’ll admit, only Championship mediocrity and the sale of every valuable asset on the books appeared to wait. A completely different landscape to recent campaigns and one that would take time to acclimatise to.
And yet you can see the way the majority of City’s summer recruits have adjusted to the Championship task as it has developed. You can see the difference in money being spent on – and value in – fees and wages, and the impetus of younger, hungry players with something to prove. And you can struggle to remember the last time Norwich failed to finish a game looking strong ,or simply rolled over without putting in the necessary effort. Even when the quality has lacked, the purpose and character have rarely failed.
It was a curiosity that even at Millwall, naivety appeared to be City’s biggest folly.
Cue James Maddison – because I haven’t written enough about him in recent months! He told me on Saturday: “It’s hard not to look at the table but sometimes you have a little glance. I know it’s a cliché but we’ve just got to accumulate as many points as we can and hopefully nick sixth. That’s the mindset we’ve got to have. But we’re in good form. We’re on an upward slope and people will be looking over their shoulders at Norwich because we’ve been getting some good results recently.”
It means that for the first time in more than a year, the plan City are undertaking doesn’t feel like it comes with an unavoidable reality – maybe apart from Maddison’s extortionate sale.
It may crank up the quarrel come next season but at least the current work taking place at Norwich City is helping ensure that unlike this summer, expectation and reality will not be poles apart.
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